New Orleans officials set new date for homeowners to clean up

While the USA marks the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans, city officials have set a new deadline for homeowners to gut or otherwise clean their properties damaged in the storm.

Some residents hope the deadline will spur a cleanup that, in turn, will lead to more redevelopment and repopulation after the exodus that followed Katrina.

"The city needs to do what it needs to do," councilman Arnie Fielkow said Friday, when the City Council approved some exemptions to the deadline.

Resident Jim Roy agrees. He doesn't see any reason why other homeowners in the Lakeview neighborhood can't clean-up their flood-damaged houses. After all, he said, it's been a year.

"Make a decision," he said recently, as he helped a neighbor do yard work. "Take care of the property or sell it."

People who don't gut or clean up after being put on notice face a range of possible penalties, from liens on their property to the seizure or destruction of homes. There is an appeals process.

"To see a home cleaned up, even if it's not occupied, does a lot psychologically," said Bari Landry. In Lakeview, she sees signs of new life. But there also are signs of the disaster, from deserted houses, with windows and doors standing wide open, to tall tangles of weeds.

That the city has a long way to go to recover was evident during Sunday's anniversary observances. More events are scheduled Monday and Tuesday.

Bruce S. Gordon, the president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, led a walking tour of the Lower Ninth Ward to a neighborhood memorial Sunday. Gordon said he believes government, on all levels, continues to fail residents in that still-devastated neighborhood.

In the badly flooded Mid-City neighborhood, the First United Baptist Church still holds services under a tent outside the battered church.

"We have a lot of work in this neighborhood," the Rev. Marshall Truehill Jr. told his congregation. He challenged them to go door-to-door and find people in need of help, and those without transportation who might need to get a ride out of town if another hurricane hits New Orleans.

Other remembrances in and around New Orleans included a gospel concert at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, where thousands of evacuees suffered stifling heat and waited for food and water in the days following Katrina, and a silent charity auction at the downtown casino that was used as a staging area by police immediately after the storm.

Also Sunday, Governor Kathleen Blanco activated the state's Emergency Operations Center in case Tropical Storm Ernesto veered west rather than continuing on a path toward Florida, Associated Press Writer Cain Burdeau said.

Early forecast tracks indicated a threat to New Orleans late next week but the tracks had shifted to the east by Sunday morning, centering on Florida and moving Louisiana out of the expected danger zone.

"Louisiana will be prepared for Ernesto," said Col. Jeff Smith, acting director of the state Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness said. "We well remember how Katrina changed course from Florida to Louisiana in a very short period of time."

Blanco said the state was prepared for whatever the storm did, but added: "One of the things we don't want to do is overreact, unnecessarily and put unnecessary strain on our people."

The Lower Ninth Ward, one of the neighborhoods hardest hit by Katrina, is exempt from the gutting deadline, although residents will be expected to take care of their damaged houses by an unspecified future date.

Others may be exempt, too, if they have an "acceptable" excuse, such as being on the list for a gutting service that hasn't gotten around to their property yet.

Enforcement could begin any time after Tuesday.

That bothers Patricia Jones, who works at a recovery center. She said many people remain displaced or are waiting for checks or direction from city officials before deciding what they should do. "The city hasn't even done their part in a year," she said, noting that many public schools remain closed and housing is still in short supply.